Whooping cough has killed ten infants under the age of three months this year, according to the latest figures published by the Health Protection Agency.
The Agency said there had been 6,121 cases of whooping cough so far in the UK in 2012, a figure up to five times higher than last year's 12 month total.
Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is highly infectious airborne disease which spreads when an infected person coughs.
The Department of Health has announced a programme to boost the short term immunity of pregnant women by offering them a vaccine for the condition. Normally newborns are not vaccinated until they are between two and four months old.
Pregnant women will be offered the vaccination between 28 and 38 weeks of pregnancy.
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at the HPA, said: “We have been very concerned about the continuing increase in whooping cough cases and related deaths and welcome the urgent action recently taken by the Department of Health to introduce a vaccine for pregnant women.
“The introduction of a vaccine for pregnant women will not have an immediate impact on serious infection in infants so vigilance remains important."
Dr Ramsay said parents should ensure their children are vaccinated on time, including infants whose mothers had received the vaccine during pregnancy.
Parents should be alert to the signs and symptoms of whooping cough. These include severe coughing fits accompanied by the characteristic “whoop” sound in young children, but as a prolonged cough in older children or adults, Dr Ramsay said.
"It is also advisable to keep babies away from older siblings or adults who have the infection," she added.
Whooping cough affects all ages but infants are at highest risk of death, as they do not receive the full vaccination cycle until they are about four months old.